Since it was released on this date in 1977, the most popular Fleetwood Mac album still endures through the times and the tides
A bit of fact-checking here: There is no truth to the idea that, if you lived in the suburbs in 1977, you were required to own a copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and that, if you didn’t own one, a copy would be provided for you.
It might have seemed like the case, but it was not actual law.
The second album of Fleetwood Mac’s Buckingham/Nicks pop juggernaut years and Behind the Music soap opera in music form, it turns 45 today.
The first release with the new lineup — 1975’s self-titled album — was a far bigger success than any of the band’s predecessors with Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer and Bob Welch.
There is a segment of rock fandom of a certain age that Fleetwood Mac “died” when Green left the band in 1970 and that the popular Buckingham/Nicks era was just “pop pap.”
Of course, this ignored the fact that Green–a brilliant guitarist and often a very good songwriter–was in no state to continue, as a combination of excess LSD use and underlying mental health problems derailed him until he began to recover in the ’80s.
Fleetwood Mac, with its namesake members still there, kept going. It should be noted the group had its pop moments even before Buckingham and Nicks entered the picture, particularly during the Welch years. His “Hypnotized” was an FM rock staple that should have been a pop hit and his later solo hit “Sentimental Lady” first appeared on a Mac album (1972’s Bare Trees).
Meanwhile, keyboardist and singer Christine McVie’s songwriting continued to improve. Her “Come a Little Bit Closer”, off Heroes, could have been viewed as single material had it been on one of the albums after Buckingham and Nicks joined.
Buckingham and Nicks, meanwhile, came into the band hungry, literally. Nicks has said that she wasn’t far from quitting the music business and going back to school at the time the offer to join Fleetwood Mac arrived. Even though the two hadn’t acheived commercial success prior to then, they’d been working at their craft.
Which brings us to this — by the time the new lineup recorded 1975’s self-titled album, Fleetwood Mac’s days as a blues band were in the rearview mirror and, damn right, they were a pop rock band, one with three good writers.
When the group started to record an album under the working title of Yesterday’s Gone in Sausalito in 1976, that trio of damn good writers — McVie, Buckingham and Nicks — were in good form and working with confidence after the self-titled album’s success.
That’s not to say the album was easy to put together. Substances, cocaine especially, were abundant to the point where Fleetwood later claimed there was an idea to thank their supplier in the album credits until said supplier was murdered. Relationships were falling apart — Buckingham and Nicks were splitting, as were Christine McVie and the band’s bassist John McVie. Nicks and Fleetwood, whose own marriage was on the rocks, had an affair later in the year.
Buckingham, the most driven in the pop-rock direction, was increasingly assertive, which didn’t always mesh with Fleetwood and bassist John McVie’s musical leanings.
There were production issues as well, from the time it took the Sausalito studio to get the sound producers Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut wanted to the fixing needed at the end because the tapes had been overused (which messed up the drum sounds in particular). By luck, the studio in Sausalito had recorded two 24-track basic tracks. A technical specialist was brought in from ABC-Dunhill and, by using a vari-speed oscillator, he was able to transfer overdubs to the other basic tracks, using the hi-hat and snare as cues to keep the timing right.
“If he put his headphones in the right direction, as one machine moved faster than the other, the image in his head would move to the right,” Caillat said later. “So he would turn the VSO to the left, and basically it was like steering it. I tried that a couple of times and it nearly scrambled my brain, but he did that all night long and saved our butts. Rumours would have been dead, just about. What a coincidence that we’d just happened to record double basic tracks.”
For all the drama, tension and pressure (the label had wanted a 1976 release), Fleetwood Mac knew it had something special on its hands by the time they listened to the the completed work in the final mastering stage.
They were right. Rumours proved to be a case of artistic success released to a public primed to accept it commercially, becoming one of the top ten selling albums all-time.
With all of the drama, recrimination and cocaine, the band remained committed to seeing the final outcome through. The goal was to put together an album where every song could be a potential single.
As it turned out, the album had four — all of them were Top 10 in the U.S, starting with the lead single — “Go Your Own Way” (speaking of recrimination).
A lot of angry songs about exes are out there, but most of them aren’t done with the ex still around in the same band. When Taylor Swift unveiled that extended version of “All Too Well” last year, Jake Gyllenhaal is not a musician. He didn’t have to play on it and he isn’t going to have to stand on stage next to her for the next 40 years, hearing about that scarf again.
Nicks and Buckingham wouldn’t have that, as both made sure each knew how the other felt, as did the others.
VIDEO: Fleetwood Mac “Go Your Own Way”
Buckingham got the first word in with “Go Your Own Way”, which made his very personal anger and pain universal — a classic anthem (with Fleetwood’s drumming propelling the whole thing). Buckingham brings the same fiery intensity to the chorus (“You can go your own way/Go your own way/You can call it/Another lonely day”) that he does to his solo.
A lot of us suburban kids were in households of divorce during that period (my own parents broke up while Rumours was being recorded). We saw the emotions in that song surely as a lot of the parents felt them.
The same goes for the second single, “Dreams” where Nicks gets in her word. She opts for beguilingly moody, but her pain and disppointment, while tempered with resignation, cut just as deep.
The deep cutting comes from the honesty inherent in its quick creation. Tired of sitting around during down time at the Record Plant, Nicks went to another studio (supposedly reserved for Sly Stone). Sitting on a bed, playing a Fender electric piano and with an upbeat drum loop, she wrote the song in about 10 minutes. Her guide vocals on the first time the band ran through it that night are the ones on the final track.
Knowing she had something, Nicks gave Buckingham the demo tape. “It was a rough take, just me singing solo and playing piano. Even though he was mad with me at the time, Lindsey played it and then looked up at me and smiled,” she told the Daily Mail in 2009.
Even though he was the subject of the song’s unflattering portrayal, Buckingham worked on fleshing out the demo to help bring out Nicks’ vision for it.
VIDEO: Fleetwood Mac “Dreams”
For all the Sturm und Drang in making the album, the five members were determined to see it through to its best possible conclusion.
“We were couples who couldn’t make it through. But, as musicians, we still respected each other — and we got some brilliant songs out of it,” Nicks told the Daily Mail.
Christine McVie’s pop touch took over on the next two singles, starting with “Don’t Stop.”
For all the ink spilled about any friction between Lindsey and Stevie, the artistic meshing of Lindsey and Christine gets overlooked. “Don’t Stop” is a great example of the pairing. Her disarmingly simple, bouncy pop gets sung as a duet between the two of them with those lovely harmonies over the blissful final chorus fadeout that one wishes would last longer than its 30 seconds. With that Mick and John rhythm section holding down the groove and the upbeat lyrics, it’s a poptimistic joy and a refreshing break from the D-R-A-M-A drama.
VIDEO: Fleetwood Mac “Don’t Stop”
Like “Don’t Stop”, “You Make Loving Fun” came out of the period where the dam finally burst on Christine’s bad case of writer’s block. She worked on it early at the Record Plant, sans Buckingham, to get her vocals where she wanted them.
It’s another pop gem, with harmonies coating it like a warm blanket, Buckingham’s tart guitar, Christine’s grooving clavinet and the fantastic rhythm section. It’s absorbing buoyance makes it a pop classic that’s her high-point on the album, along with another song we’ll get to later
Meanwhile, there’s the biggest non-single hit off Rumours and its cornerstone. Located at the end of the original side one, “The Chain” was co-written by all five members.
Unlike, say, “Dreams”, “The Chain” needed more work to piece together. John McVie had a bass line he wanted to use, at first for another song. You know the one. It kicks in just past the three-minute mark, with Fleetwood’s rat-tat-tat drumming, propelling the song to its fiery conclusion.
Buckingham’s opening lick came from the Buckingham/Nicks song “Lola (My Love). The chorus cames from Christine’s “Keep Me There”, another song from the sessions, as does does that bass/drums tandem into outro, as well as the outro itself.
The key to putting it all together came from a song Nicks had been working on. She told Variety in 2020, “Lindsey asked me, ‘You know that song that you wrote about ‘If you don’t love me now, you will never love me again’ — can we have that?’ Because we have this amazing solo that’s at the end of it, when John McVie comes in and goes [she sings the famous bass part]. He said, ‘We have that, and it’s amazing, but we don’t really have a song. Would you consider letting us have that song that I know you have, because I’ve known you a long time and I’ve heard it?’ And I thought to myself, ‘Well, okay. I will take one for the team here. And I will give you the song with all the words and the verses and everything, so you can use your solo.'”
Through some additional lyrics from Buckingham and Christine McVie and through jamming and some studio reconstruction, it came together.
The end result is a signature anthem. Nicks is on record as saying as her writing on Rumours wasn’t strictly about her relationship with Buckingham, but about all the various relationship situations the band members were in at the time. “The Chain” could easily be about the recrimination, but in the end, it’s the determination to find a way to keep things going.
Rumours’ opener “Second Hand News” is the upbeat, fuck-you after “Go Your Own Way,” where Buckingham seems quite happy at the prospect of moving on, with that irresistible, mostly wordless chorus.
“Never Going Back Again” is a more defiant expression of moving on from Buckingham, anchored by his finger picking style (one of many wonderful guitar parts on an album full of them).
One can’t discuss Rumours without bringing up the omission of one of the sessions’ standout songs — the Nicks-penned “Silver Springs.” The track was dropped later in the process, much to her understandable consternation. It was thought to be too long and not the best fit for the album’s pacing.
It didn’t help that the song was dropped initially without Nicks’ knowledge.
Buckingham and the band worked up a track around “I Don’t Want to Know”, a poppier Nicks song from before the Buckingham / Nicks days, only telling her when it was time to record the vocals.
Nicks was right to be disappointed. “Silver Springs” is one of her best songs — beautifully delicate and clear-eyed in its delivery and perhaps more pointed as a riposte to Buckingham’s view of the end of their relationship than “Dreams.”
It had to be particularly galling that it was shunted off as a B-side to “Go Your Own Way” (and its “packing up, shacking up is all you want to do” line after she was the one who broke up with him).
Nicks finally had her say with it when the song made its way into the setlist of the show recorded for 1997’s The Dance. She sings with over 20 years distance from the breakup, by the end intensely delivering the lines “Time cast a spell on you but you won’t forget me/I know I could’ve loved you but you would not let me/I’ll follow you down ’til the sound of my voice will haunt you.” She does it staring directly with a healthy amount of respect and a bit of “fuck you” at Buckingham just feet away from her. The performance earned the group a Grammy nomination.
VIDEO: Fleetwood Mac “Silver Springs”
Christine also chipped in the slower, shadowy “Oh Daddy”, written about the ongoing dissolution of Fleetwood’s marriage, as well as “Songbird.”
And now we come to Christine’s other highlight, the album’s most spare track, which co-producer Caillat wanted to keep that way.
She told Attitude in 2009 that she wrote the song in about 30 minutes, but there was a catch.
“I had the words, the melody, everything. And guess what I didn’t have? A tape recorder! I had to stay up all night and keep playing it so I could call an engineer first thing in the morning to let me go in and put it on tape so I wouldn’t forget it,” she said.
Caillat’s first choice, the Berkeley Community Theater where he’d worked as an engineer on Joni Mitchell performances for her 1974 album Miles of Aisles, was unavailable.
Zellerbach Hall on the UC-Berkeley campus was booked instead. Caillat wanted to ensure the mood was right. He had a bouquet roses placed on top of McVie’s piano, with three colored spotlights trained on it. In his book Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album, he said: “When Christine arrived, we dimmed the house lights so that all she could see were the flowers and the piano with the spotlight shining down from the heavens. She nearly broke into tears. Then she started to play.”
The all-night session yielded the intimate beauty they were going for, as Christine sings of love during a time where she and John were moving on in their ways — he by bringing other women to the studio at times and her by dating a member of the band’s crew.
As much love might still be there, there are times where that isn’t enough. The lyric “And I wish you all the love in the world/But most of all, I wish it from myself,” rings as true for everyone in the suburbs and beyond who heard it as did for the English rock star who sang it.
Being in those ’70s suburbs, one didn’t have to look far to find people self-medicating to get through those breakups.
“Dreams” wasn’t Nicks’ only highlight, thanks to the presence of album closer “Gold Dust Woman”, in which her mystical side dances with her copious cocaine consumption side, though it dates back to before the latter. She told Spin in 1997, “Gold Dust Woman’ was really my symbolic look about somebody going through a bad relationship, and doing a lot of drugs, and trying to… just make it, trying to live, trying to get through it to the next thing. “
As symbolic as she intended it, it’s hard to think she wasn’t looking at herself by the time they recorded it, going through a bad breakup and being an addict, although she wasn’t ready to address the latter. She may have written “take your silver spoon and dig your grave,” but wouldn’t stop using cocaine until ten years after Rumours was recorded nor get completely sober until 1993.
It’s evocative and darkly open-ended, a perfect choice to end an album for a band which, for all its creative chemistry and desire to soldier through it, wasn’t about to wrap things up in a tidy bow.
“Rumours remains so powerful because it’s so ruthlessly clear-eyed about the crisis, instead of smoothing it over,” Christine told Rolling Stone in 2017. “After all the tantrums and breakdowns and crying fits, the album ends with Stevie Nicks asking you point blank: ‘Is it over now? Do you know how to pick up the pieces and go home?’ If the answers are ‘no’ and ‘no,’ you flip the record and play it again.”
Those tensions weren’t sustainable over the long-term. The follow-up album, 1979’s Tusk, was quite good and their last album at their peak, but suffered in particular from Buckingham’s idiosyncratic tendencies taking over, less as a facilitator and more like he just wanted the other four to be his backing band for his first solo album.
There would indeed be solo albums (including Nicks’ classic debut Bella Donna in 1981) and two more group albums before Buckingham packed his bags and left after the troubled Tango in the Night was released.
None of the group’s three studio albums after that contained the key trio of songwriters together. McVie was the only one of the three left on 1995’s Time. She was gone by the time Buckingham and Nicks came back for 2003’s Say You Will, the group’s last album to date.
Christine McVie remained in semi-retirement for almost 15 years from the 1998 until the last decade, missing a couple of tours.
There was the On With the Show tour in 2014-15 with Christine back in the fold with the promise of the reunion continuing in 2018.
Things finally fell apart, apparently for good, when Buckingham was fired. The cause? Depending on reports, Nicks had found working with him untenable or there were disagreements over material (Buckingham wanted more new songs). It might have been a combination of those two with other factors. In the end, it could be the inevitable conclusion of what was already threatening to happen back in the Rumours sessions. There’s a lot less incentive to force staying together in a difficult unit when only one of you isn’t in your 70s and you have a secure legacy with no push to make a hit record.
Buckingham, back to being a solo artist, put out a self-titled album last year that was his best since 1992’s Out of the Cradle.
As for Fleetwood Mac, there’s a real possibility that it’s reached the end of its 50-plus year road. Thanks to the pandemic, the group is on hiatus with no reported concrete plans for a last goodbye in the studio or onstage. The 2018 tour with Mike Campbell from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Neil Finn from Crowded House as Buckingham’s replacements may stand as their farewell outing.
As unsustainable as the personalities and tensions of Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac proved to be, the album itself succeeds because of how those personalities and tensions came together, a testimony to what they saw in each other, even as they were breaking apart.
Rumours is compelling and still way more intimate and universal than the circumstances of its creation could have allowed it it to be. Owning a copy wasn’t an obligation, but a proud addition to the collection. That was true whether you were, like me an only child living in a Denver suburb with a single mom who embarking on a path of avoiding accepting her own queerness and trying to make it financially while your father was out of the picture driving a truck in parts unknown. It was true for a wide cross section of society, suburbs, cities or in some house in the middle of nowhere.
Decades later, it still compels. Flip it over or hit that start button and play it again.
AUDIO: Fleetwood Mac Rumours (full album)